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Candidates for mayor talk women's issues at a downtown event

By Adam Janos

Of all the different special interest groups grappling for power in New York City, the Women's Rights movement is one of the largest and most diverse. According to the New York City Department of Urban Planning, there are nearly 400,000 more women than men in New York, which means the group advocates for an absolute majority in the Big Apple. And with a city this diverse, that means a responsibility for advocacy to a plethora of issues.

NOW's (National Organization for Women) Mayoral forum at Pace University last Tuesday aimed to address that immense breadth of policy concerns for New Yorkers, and questions about more "typical" women's rights topics like contraceptive care and paid sick leave, were tempered with more gender-neutral topics like city pensions, mayoral power, and the future of our education system.

The Republicans took the stage first, though of the GOP candidates, only Joe Lhota actually showed up, with billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis cancelling his appearance at the eleventh hour. Lhota was joined on stage by Independent Party candidate Adolfo Carrion, and the two sparred on a variety of issues. Of the two, Lhota got the more memorable lines in; his response to the question, "Why are you a Republican?" ? which was met by laughter from the presumably left-leaning crowd ? was poignant, and effectively served as the GOP frontrunner's pitch to a city that will have to look past its own progressive leanings if he is to find a pathway to victory.

"I'm a Republican and have been probably since I was ten years old," said the former MTA Chairman. "I do believe in government from a libertarian point of view? that the government shouldn't be in the bedroom, it shouldn't be telling us what to do, it should be limited in its focus. It should direct us, and control society in a way such that it's not overbearing. So look, I do disagree, vehemently disagree, with the national Republican Party. I'm doing everything I can to change it. But? I do believe that the Democratic Party is not fiscally disciplined enough, and I'm really focused around fiscal discipline."

Unfortunately for Lhota, being the "most memorable" in the stage was a double-edged sword, and he had a few key slip-ups. He may have saved his most inelegant comment for last, when he answered the question? in the lightning round ? if he considered himself a feminist.

"I've never thought about it before," the candidate glibly replied.

Perhaps the hours prior to a women's rights mayoral forum would have been a good time for that.

On the Democratic side, the more crowded stage (Christine Quinn, John Liu, Bill Thompson and Bill de Blasio) left less breathing room for any individual candidate to give a run away performance. Quinn grabbed some easy cheers when referring to herself as a "pushy broad", but ? curiously enough ? she otherwise stayed away from identity politics and made no mention of the glass ceiling she'd be breaking as the city's first female mayor.

The Dems spent a large share of their time debating a question relating to Comptroller Liu's 2011 proposal to merge the city's five pension plans under one umbrella, which he estimated would shave $1 billon per year from New York's budget. Speaker Christine Quinn condemned that the decision to announce the proposal publically through the press before receiving widespread union support, saying the matter would have better been handled behind closed doors. The public advocate agreed.

"The stakeholders weren't consulted properly," said de Blasio.

After each of the candidates had spoken ? and critiqued ? the Comptroller's proposed pension merger, Liu injected the debate with a healthy dose of humor.

"I support my plan," said Liu. It was one of several funny quips from the Comptroller, who in another deadpan moment noted that while he would like to crack down upon those who purchase and bankroll prostitution in the city, he has serious reservations about using the term "Johns."

It was a light note in a forum that was decidedly substantive. This was in no small part due to Purnick, who repeated questions and interrupted candidates when she felt they were being evasive. Those on stage rose to the challenge.

For the last question of the forum, the four Democrats were asked, as Lhota and Carrion had, if they considered themselves feminists:

Yes, yes, yes, yes.

It was an affirming end for a robust debate, and those at NOW can take comfort in knowing that the women's rights movement is healthy and rising.

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